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Autonomy  •  18 October 2021  •  Fiction

Prometheus & Pandora

By Grace Oldfield
Content Warning: Gore, blood, physical abuse
Prometheus & Pandora

I could not stand upon my pyre‭. ‬

Could not let my guilty skin char‭, ‬blood bubble‭, ‬and eyes burst‭. ‬Could not spit‭, ‬pop‭, ‬and crackle amongst the flames‭. ‬

Had the heart he placed inside my chest once again forsaken me‭?‬‭ ‬I despaired‭. ‬Trees‭, ‬under the weight of Arctic snow‭, ‬bowed like expectant mourners‭, ‬but I could not appease them‭. ‬So I stood shivering‭, ‬despite the warmth of my demise‭. ‬Would I forever feel rapid‭, ‬desperate heartbeats against my fingertips‭? ‬Slight vibrations of gasps against my palm‭? ‬Flecks of blackened wood stained the whiteness around the fire‭, ‬and the intense heat had started to melt the surrounding snow‭. ‬I stood there until the first rays of dawn‭, ‬when the horizon and the flames turned the colour of embers‭. ‬The coals were the flowers placed upon the coffin of my freedom‭. ‬All there was to do was drag these heavy feet across another continent‭, ‬collecting little more than callouses‭. ‬

For thirty years‭, ‬I found lonely refuge in forests and mountains‭. ‬The Alps had lost their sense of monolith‭, ‬the Swiss forests their beauty‭. ‬All that remained of me were footsteps‭. ‬Oh why‭?‬‭ ‬I had commiserated‭. ‬Why could my fingers and toes not turn blue and waxy‭, ‬and my heart still within my chest‭? ‬Why would animals not latch onto my limbs and tear them out of their stitched sockets‭? ‬

But‭, ‬it was when travelling through Paris that I obtained the objects that would change my life’s path‭; ‬an intervention by destiny‭. ‬

The French have beautiful outdoor bookstores‭ ‬—‭ ‬bouquinistes‭. ‬Boxes of second-hand books lounged across each side of the Seine‭, ‬manned by fellows in tailcoats and tophats‭. ‬I had found that peering at these carts from alleyways was the closest I would come to reading‭, ‬and so had made a habit of sitting‭,‬‭ ‬head resting against cold brick‭, ‬watching people skim the shelves‭. ‬

It was a crisp‭, ‬cold October morning when I saw gold glimmering within the books‭ ‬—‭ ‬three vibrantly coloured leather books‭, ‬the divots of flowering edging on either side of the spines‭. ‬Encased in orange paint were the words‭ ‬Vol‭. ‬1‭, ‬Vol‭. ‬2‭ ‬and‭ ‬Vol‭. ‬3‭. ‬Looming above these chapter distinguishments‭, ‬were the words‭: ‬

FRANKEN‭ ‬

STEIN‭ ‬

My hands started to quiver‭, ‬and my brow dampen‭. ‬My creator’s name‭ ‬—‭ ‬lengthened but nonetheless his‭ ‬—‭ ‬caused my breath to quicken and vision to blur‭. ‬Had Dr‭. ‬Franken risen from the dead‭, ‬seeking final vengeance on his creation‭? ‬I‭ ‬knew it could be a coincidence‭, ‬yet the blinding banner of gold would not relinquish my attention‭. ‬I waited patiently for someone to pick up the tomes‭, ‬in hopes I could steal it from them in a darkened alley‭. ‬Alas‭, ‬this moment never came and the books sat‭, ‬prideful‭, ‬on the cart‭. ‬I had no choice but to confront the setting sun and snatch the books myself‭. ‬I had hoped the bookseller‭ ‬would keep his back turned‭, ‬but neither he nor I were so lucky‭. ‬Upon seeing me‭, ‬he trembled and struggled with the comprehension of my form‭: ‬my glowing yellow eyes and patchwork skin‭. ‬I snatched the three tomes and held them to my chest‭, ‬bolting down the‭ ‬street‭. ‬I ran into another alleyway‭, ‬never stopping‭, ‬and abandoning all embodiment of a sleuth‭. ‬

Once I had arrived in the surrounding countryside‭, ‬I ducked behind some bushes to recapture my breath‭. ‬I allowed my spoils to spill onto the grass‭, ‬one of the novels opening to the first page‭. ‬

Frankenstein‭, ‬ou Le Promethee Moderne‭, ‬it read‭. ‬Par Mme‭. ‬Shelley‭.‬‭ ‬I flipped to the next page‭, ‬then the next‭, ‬finding my life surmised in curves and strokes of ink‭. ‬The creation and the downfall‭. ‬The unforgivable acts of jealousy and revenge‭; ‬such human reactions for someone as non-human as myself‭. ‬I had not felt the sensation of tears for years‭, ‬but on this occasion‭, ‬they were drawn from my eyes‭. ‬To read the thoughts of my creator‭, ‬to hear he did not care‭ ‬—‭ ‬did not attempt to care‭ ‬—‭ ‬cut me deeper than any physical wound‭. ‬On my second reading‭, ‬I saw hope in-between the lines‭, ‬the spellings of another life‭. ‬My‭ ‬own destiny within my master’s‭. ‬I took mental notes on the places he had travelled‭, ‬the schooling he had received‭. ‬I had never known the place of his most vital research‭, ‬but now my dreams were captured within my hands‭. ‬

It took a mere week-and-a-half to return to the lab and vials of my‭ ‬‘childhood’‭. ‬I knew I may find nothing‭, ‬and perhaps that would have been more of a comfort to me‭. ‬Nonetheless‭, ‬when searching through the library in the dead of night‭, ‬I found my answers‭. ‬Scribblings of anatomy and musings of da Vinci lay like sleeping giants within‭ ‬books written by the natural philosophers‭. ‬The handwriting of my creator‭. ‬With those words came the realisation‭, ‬the‭ ‬eureka‭. ‬I could hold a dead thing in my hands and state‭: ‬“Not you‭. ‬You will be present‭.‬”‭ ‬

There were reasons for hesitation‭. ‬I had no house or homestead‭, ‬and no place to source body parts‭. ‬But my mind was fixated on companionship and the sensation of a woman’s hands‭. ‬I found a cave‭, ‬no more than seven feet tall‭, ‬and collected the most desirable body parts from the nearby morgue‭. ‬

After three months of crawling in and out of my stone laboratory‭, ‬I finalised my work‭. ‬There She lay‭, ‬fragile and limp‭. ‬Purple veins pressed against her grey skin‭; ‬and her eyes‭, ‬one blue and one green‭, ‬stared blankly at the rocks‭. ‬

When I witnessed Her form‭, ‬so beautiful in the darkness‭, ‬the words of humans entered my mind‭. ‬Monster‭. ‬Daemon‭. ‬Heathen‭. ‬I reached for the twine with one hand‭, ‬and found the other closing Her eyes‭. ‬Eyelashes delicately tickled my palm‭. ‬Murderer‭. ‬Wicked‭. ‬Cursed‭. ‬I let the needle pierce the soft‭, ‬thin skin of Her eyelids‭. ‬Wretched‭. ‬Devil‭. ‬Evil‭. ‬I pushed and pulled‭, ‬the needle jolting each time it was relieved from the pressures of skin‭. ‬Suddenly‭, ‬Her eyes were shut and‭ ‬my hands were on the electric-machine‭. ‬

With a spark and crackle and great flash of light‭, ‬there was a woman on the slab‭, ‬moving Her fingers‭, ‬wiggling Her toes‭. ‬Her eyes strained at the twine‭, ‬and Her lips opened in a gasp‭. ‬

“Hn-uhn‭,‬”‭ ‬She said‭. ‬

I took Her hand in mine and She tugged against it slightly‭, ‬as if testing the resistance‭. ‬Finding my grasp would not relent‭, ‬Her‭ ‬fingers fell slack‭. ‬

I taught Her how to stand‭, ‬then walk‭, ‬then talk‭. ‬The latter was resolved through bringing Her miscellaneous animals and fruits and discussing these through touch‭. ‬It only took a few months for us to start to converse‭. ‬I told Her of the forest and the expansive world beyond‭, ‬the cold mountains and colder humans‭. ‬I explained to Her my story‭, ‬discarding the grotesque details‭, ‬to make‭ ‬Her grateful for our home‭. ‬Sometimes She would go deep into thought‭, ‬head in Her hands‭. ‬It was peculiar seeing a woman's body so‭ ‬hunched and oblivious to the world around Her‭. ‬

That night I found Her a dress and corset‭, ‬hoping the nice fabrics would assist in diminishing Her depression‭. ‬She was excited at the new sensations on Her skin‭, ‬and for the first time a slight smile cracked Her lips‭. ‬

“Thank you‭,‬”‭ ‬I said‭, ‬and She repeated‭. ‬

And so‭, ‬every second night‭, ‬I cast away into the darkness to find trinkets for Her‭. ‬She had started a collection in the corner of the cave‭, ‬paper laid beside rock laid beside shell‭. ‬Each night‭, ‬She eagerly rushed to me‭, ‬a flood of compliments on Her lips‭. ‬It had warmed my heart‭, ‬seeing Her so captivated with things as small as petals‭. ‬But like all things‭, ‬this happiness too would end‭. ‬

It started when She asked if She could wear pants‭. ‬She complained of the coldness that travelled up Her skirts‭, ‬and the impracticalities of movement‭. ‬She asked if She could venture and find trinkets Herself‭. ‬Hunt by Herself‭. ‬She asked why She was confined‭ ‬to stone and cold while I was not‭. ‬I will admit I raised my voice‭, ‬louder than I expected or had known possible of myself‭. ‬

“The world outside is a dark‭, ‬terrifying place‭! ‬Do you not recall what I have told you of my existence‭? ‬Of the cruelty of men and‭ ‬fear of women‭! ‬You will not find the world worthy‭. ‬I have given you the greatest kindness and yet you meet me with betrayal‭.‬”‭ ‬She shied away from the heightened tone‭. ‬

“I want to leave‭,‬”‭ ‬She whispered‭. ‬

It was with those words I realised I was never to be called son or husband‭, ‬nor father‭. ‬

I was her master‭.‬

I stared hopefully into her stitched-up eyes‭, ‬willing them to see I was her equal‭. ‬I searched for upward creases beside her mouth‭, ‬or a light easy breath‭. ‬It was with the absence of these things that I realised I had failed‭. ‬I was alone again‭. ‬I wrapped my‭ ‬hands around her wrists‭ ‬—‭ ‬the very limbs I had brought life to‭ ‬—‭ ‬and threw her to the cold stone floor‭, ‬where she did not rise‭.‬

Dr Franken’s notes could not have been wrong‭; ‬I must have misread a line‭, ‬misunderstood an instruction‭, ‬miscalculated an equation‭. ‬I have besmirched his work with a defective creation‭, ‬but I could undo my mistake‭ ‬—‭ ‬I could take her apart to find the flaw and remove it‭. ‬Perhaps the voltage was too little or too much‭, ‬or the cave too septic for such divine work‭. ‬My dismay and anger soothed into composure and contemplation‭. ‬I would remake her‭, ‬replace the tainted pieces‭. ‬And when she came to me anew‭, ‬we would be happy‭.‬

I tied her limp hands and feet together with some rope‭. ‬She was slouched‭, ‬her corset the only structure in her form‭. ‬I heaved a‭ ‬deep breath and took refuge in the cool night‭, ‬letting the moonlight wash upon me‭. ‬I stared up to the sky‭, ‬ruminating over what‭ ‬I must do next‭. ‬Around me‭, ‬the grass swayed gently in the wind‭. ‬I resorted to picking flowers‭, ‬planning to place them among her‭ ‬collection‭, ‬however I found myself plucking absently at the petals until all I was left with were stalks‭. ‬She had proven to be an irrational thing‭, ‬but still I hoped that she‭, ‬in her final moments‭, ‬understood my intent was not to harm‭.‬

I returned‭, ‬seeking to cure her madness‭. ‬Instead I found two short pieces of twine‭, ‬stained a rusting red‭. ‬Scattered around them‭ ‬were the browning petals I had given her and the rope I had bound her in‭. ‬I did not cry or tremble‭, ‬clasping onto the only two‭ ‬pieces of her I had left‭. ‬

Instead‭, ‬I rearranged my stone laboratory and adjusted the controls on my electric-machine‭, ‬preparing for my next journey to the‭ ‬morgue‭. ‬

END‭. ‬

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